Monday, March 31, 2008

blogs: everything in moderation

David Pogue, one of our favorite technology columnists, puts his finger on the reason so many communicators hesitate to use blogs: comments, and their potential to take your blog publishing out of control. He describes an audience reaction during a recent talk when the emcee asked why the audience of PR practitioners were not using Web 2.0 tools:
The audience loved that one; within seconds, there were 132 responses on the screen in a huge, scrolling list. "Not enough money." "Don't understand it." "No technical resources." "Not enough manpower." "No visible return on investment." "Fear of ridicule." "Fear of slander." "Fear of permanence." "Fear of the public running amok."
Pogue goes on to make the case for moderating comments, and describes how he does so on his New York Times blog. Most persuasively, he says:'ll gain trust, goodwill and positive attention. You'll put a human face on your company. And you'll learn stuff about your customers that you wouldn't have discovered any other way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

more on the web's effect on news

TIME magazine weighs in on how the Internet's changing news, with interesting insights on how individual stories--and not their parent package, be it magazine, TV or newspaper--have become the sought-after goal. The reason: The 'net lets readers become highly selective as they customize what they read, and media sites are left trying to become the source of the story to which everyone's linking. The result?
This trend towards story-by-story competition, and away from package-by-package competition, is a blessing and a curse. It is forcing better writing, quicker responsiveness, and it is increasing the value of actual news-making and clear-eyed thinking. But it is also increasing pressure on reporters to push the boundaries of provocation.
TIME blogger Michael Scherer adds some amusing footnotes about who wound up linking to his post. Read those, and consider how this changes your media relations--and what reporters will be asking of you. More speed? Stronger points? Tougher questions?

when scientists communicate

How would you translate "charismatic megafauna" when trying to reach a public audience? That was the challenge for one wildlife biologist in the "Communicating Science" workshop I facilitated. Sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation, the workshops allowed scientists in Northern California to gather for an overview of communicating clearly with public and media audiences. AAAS has posted coverage of the first session here, noting:
The San Jose event attracted 44 participants from varied academic career levels, disciplines, and institutions. Attendees gave the day-long workshop high marks on surveys, identifying among its most valuable components the provision of informational resources, close interaction among participants, and discovering a shared interest among other scientists in communicating research to broader audiences.
That wildlife biologist volunteered for a live remake of her key messages about her research, which looks at migration pathways for important species ranging from birds and salamanders to mountain lions (those charismatic megafauna) that are threatened by pending development. I'm pleased to say that she--and many others at the workshop--found to their surprise that they could translate their technical work in ways easy for public audiences to grasp. Next: The April 3 workshop in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can check out more resources for scientist-communicators on the AAAS website.

phoning home to...your blog?

Blogger, itself a Google service, is using the newly-acquired GrandCentral online phone service to help you enhance your blog with phone calls and messages. Here's a post on Blogger's own blog about the service, which lets you post a button so readers can call you for free. You decide whether to take the call--which you can preview even as a message is being left--or record on voicemail. And you can choose to post voicemail, too, as a new form of content.

We see this as a powerful tool that gives your readers,customers or audience another easy way to interact with your or your organization--and provide you with the kind of content users love to generate. Some ideas we're brainstorming here at don't get caught take their cues for creativity from existing call-in options, such as customer service lines, talk radio and more:Ask readers to vote, with comments, on a new idea you've posted; promise their volunteer time or funds to a special cause; or express their appreciation for what you do. (Remember, in the case of donors, you can actually take the call and gather the information you need to secure the pledge.)
- Try a pledge drive or other call-in campaign using online phone service.
If you're experimenting with sound options like this on your blog, let us know and we'll share your findings with others. Email us at
- Create fun content. If you were the "Car Guys" on NPR, you'd ask readers to call up and make the noise their car makes, for sure. But you also could ask readers to tell you something interesting about how they put your product to work (odd locations used, how they wore it out -- or couldn't). Or put a celebrity on the line, and let listeners react.
- Use it to collect customer service issues--then answer them on the blog. Give your customers the chance to leave detailed messages, call them back with answers, then write up the resolution on the blog--perhaps including audio from the original customer message. How about compiling an audio FAQ that features your users' voices asking common questions?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

weekly writing coach: seeing anew

 If your ideas have run dry, Today's New York Times relates tales of inspiration that struck entrepreneurs while traveling, from new designs for a line of china to technology that converts phone messages into text or email. It's not too far to leap to how a change of scene can help the weary writer. Author Jeannine McGlade notes:
“When you’re in a new environment, you have what we call ‘eyes wide open,’ ” she said. “It’s not the ‘same old, same old’ where you tend to get into a rut and aren’t alert to having a ‘spark moment.’ Things are different and fresh during travel. You’re seeing things from a different perspective and you’re really paying attention.”
McGlade is a co-author of Stimulated! Habits to Spark Your Creative Genius at Work, which argues for the stimulus that changes in routine can bring. Where can you go to get new ideas? It may be as easy as taking a new route to work or working in a different room. The Times also notes:
...if budget or schedule preclude traveling regularly, don’t worry, Ms. McGlade said. Find small ways to get stimuli from a variety of sources. Read a variety of books and magazines, engage in a range of activities, socialize with different people and nurture your curiosity.
This week, work on your own stimulus package and put one or more of these changes into play.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

how the Web's changed our reading

How has the Internet changed reading habits? A trio of reports out this week offer a few surprises in how the Web has affected readership of blogs, newspapers and yes, the print encyclopedia:
  • Political blogs gain the most attention--and fewer readers than you may think. The latest Harris Interactive poll on the topic notes that only one in five Americans read political blogs regularly, with the vast majority avoiding them or reading them several times a year. Another surprise: The poll found that blog readership rises in older age groups, and that blog readers generally feel that blogs are as credible as mainstream media or more so.
  • For its part, mainstream journalism's shifts due to the Web also yield some surprises, in the Project for Excellence in Journalism's annual State of the News Media report. The study suggests there's more repackaging and less "new news" in circulation, as most sites are recycling news produced elsewhere. As for citizen journalism and blogs, they're reported as less welcoming to outside comments, compared to mainstream media sites.
  • And the print encyclopedia may need a writer for its obituary soon, according to an article in the New York Times this week. But in the meantime, prompted by the rise of Wikipedia among the 10 most-visited sites, encyclopedia publishers like Britannica are updating entries every 20 minutes or expanding their online content with more photographs, links and other features.

wired YouTube

Must be television day here on the don't get caught news & info television, that is. I'm learning that the Associated Press has launched its own channel on YouTube, featuring as many as 250 new videos uploaded each week; some instantly, some after being held in reserve for AP subscribers. It's an effort to reach new audiences directly, and includes the chance for viewers to discuss, forward and subscribe to what they see. reports on the AP's YouTube channel here, and you can find the AP channel here.

a good video: worth a million words

I've got more of the backstory behind the dramatic Humane Society footage of apparent slaughterhouse violations in the meatpacking industry in today's New York Times coverage of just how the videotape was shot, using a miniature camera. Secret footage is nothing new, but the article looks at a 'perfect storm' of new technology, audience attitudes, and subject matter that combined to make this shoot successful, leading to the recall of 143 million pounds of ground meat. Two great quotes in the article tell the story, first one from an advisor to the cattle industry:
“How are you going to keep the cameras out when they’re as big as the pearl buttons on my Western shirt?” she said.
...and the other from an animal-rights activist who helped her organization take secret photos 20 years ago:
“A picture is worth a thousand words, but a good video is worth a million,” Ms. Newkirk said.
On the serious side, the article notes some legal restrictions on photography in "animal enterprises," which include medical labs, ranches and more. Along with my recent post on citizen journalists with cameras, the article gives you enough background to start considering how you'll prepare for the inevitable taping of your events, meetings and facilities.

Monday, March 10, 2008

is facebook your (blood) type?

We've heard many business colleagues dismiss Facebook as the province of youngsters, calling sites like LinkedIn "Facebook for Adults." But in another sign that Facebook's applications can reach the widest audiences -- after all, its fastest-growing segment is age 35 and older -- blood typing has come to the social networking site. The New York Times reports today that a new application will be launched today by a nonprofit called Takes All Types, allowing Facebook users to opt-in and identify their blood types; taking advantage of their self-identified locations, the service will send out reminders to donate and alerts when users' blood types are especially needed Listen to the founders:
“We were reacting to our sense that most of what was on Facebook was too academic or frivolous,” said Ben Bergman, a New York recruiter for online media companies who started the program with his partner, Richard Hecker. They enlisted others, including software developers and public relations people, and found immediate interest from hospitals and blood banks.

“The whole thing was done in about three months, for about $500,” Mr. Bergman said.
Not bad for a potentially lifesaving effort. What can you do on Facebook that matches this initiative and takes advantage of its growing network?

message bearers: the near and dear

We often say that organizations (nonprofit and for-profit) don't do enough to cultivate potential message-bearers among their "near and dear" audiences -- the friends, family, vendors, retirees and alumni who've worked closely with them and have more knowledge and reason to support key messages. Today's New York Times looks at a clever initiative of Hewlett-Packard to turn its retirees into a volunteer corps of endorsers and sellers.
To hear the participants tell it, it's social networking of a different type: Last Monday, Chuck Ernst, 91, a former customer service manager, attended the retiree meeting with Frank Musso, 75, who spent 25 years at H.P. They said they might not have too much time or energy to get involved in volunteer projects, but they liked the way the company was reaching out. They said the company’s embrace of its retirees started in earnest several years ago and has been intensifying.

“H.P. wants us to feel connected, and they’re doing all this work to keep us connected,” said Mr. Ernst. He said he thought the company probably ought to pay retirees to get involved in sales, but it’s not something he feels strongly about. “We’re proud of the company, and we don’t hesitate to let people know it.”
It's not as easy as pioking up the phone to muster these new regulars in the brand wars, but your organization should consider orientations for your nearest allies to share your business goals; "friends and family" visiting days so they can see the work up close; and providing them with information and training if you plan to put them to work representing the company or group. Especially smart on HP's part: Enlisting retirees with high loyalty and more time to devote to community outreach.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

zap your next speech

Don't just wish you could zap some life into your next presentation or speech. Here are three easy ways to improve your visual, verbal and message skills in your next speech:
- Use judicious gestures: Gestures help your audience see your point, keep you from fidgeting and keep your hands mobile (which in turn helps you avoid verbal stumbles). Take the time to plan a few well-placed gestures to underscore your points, and know where they'll occur. (Write them into your prepared remarks as a cue.)
- Walk away from your notes, at least once: Storytelling works in speeches to connect you with the audience and liven up your presentation. Plan an anecdote you know well--and rehearse it to be sure. Then, step away from the lectern and your notes to tell it, while looking directly at the audience.
- Use vocal variety to pop key words: You can spark attention by varying the tone, pitch and emphasis you give to key words in each sentence and througout the speech. Monotones put audiences to sleep, and cloud your message. If you're working with a script or speech, underline or boldface words you want to pop--then do it.

weekly writing coach: the nano-memoirs

Fans of the weekly writing coach know I've urged to you write shorter and shorter (or to edit yourself thusly) with the advent of such new forms as the one-word brand, the 140-character Twitter "tweet," and the shorter headline, suitable for a Blackberry. I hear lots of grumbling about the move toward shorter and shorter communications, driven by smartphones and ever-shortening attention spans, but I keep coaching writers to edit even more than before so they can be found in search engines and read by our mobile population.

You thought I was tough? Now comes the six-word memoir, courtesy of a contest that turned into a book. The genre reminds us of a slightly more macabre format, the gravestone--our favorite comes from a noted hypochondriac, who used his six words to say "I told you I was sick." Not Quite What I Was Planning, Revised and Expanded Deluxe Edition: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure compiles what Publisher's Weekly called these "nano-memoirs" from the 15,000 entries in a SMITH storytelling magazine contest. This week, it's your turn. What's your nano-memoir?

Buy Not Quite What I Was Planning, Revised and Expanded Deluxe Edition: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

your next speech: omit announcements

You'll always find me wincing in the back of the room when I hear speakers clutter up their talks and presentations with what I consider unnecessary announcements that reveal more of what's on the speaker's mind than might be intended. A few examples:
- "They told me to say this..." isn't just unfair to your staff, boss or trainer. It saps your credibility by suggesting even you don't believe in what you're about to say; why then, should we?

- "I've got three things to talk about: Number one..." just adds to the counting. There are better ways to make your three key points memorable to you and your audience, and less awkward. Try a trio of analogies that come from one popular culture theme, like a recent movie, or make them all alliterative. Your audience will follow without the outline being so obvious.

- "I know I only have five minutes, but..." tells me that you are about to violate not only the time alloted to you, but are overconfident of your ability to hold our attention. Or perhaps you can't leave anything out for question time?

- "I have too many things to say, so I'll talk faster." I once watched a candidate for high office in a membership organization announce this before a strictly enforced 5-minute statement in front of those who'd be voting for her--then listened to her speed-talk about 20 minutes of points (with slides) into the limited time. She got ridicule, not votes, and lost.
For the most part, they're innocuous--but speak volumes to your audience, and not the volumes you want them to read. Audiences appreciate respect for their time and attention. They understand speaking is awkward for many, but don't want to see all the awkwardness revealed. They also want you to take charge, remain nonanxious (they really can smell fear) and give them time to ask questions.

That's why, aside from, "it's time to break for lunch," there's only one announcement speakers can make that works in their favor: "I'm really interested in hearing your questions on this important topic, so I'm going to lay out a few thoughts and then we'll turn to questions." Just be sure you make good on that promise!

survey: nonprofits+politics+social media

Here's a survey request we're passing along, good for this week only, from the Facebook group "Nonprofits on Facebook." Anyone can take the online survey, which probes how and whether nonprofits are using social media and Web 2.0 in relation to political and advocacy activities. The request comes from the National Wildlife Federation's online advocacy manager David Pierpont, who'll use the results in a panel discussion next week at the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet's Politics Online conference. Pierpont (and we) will report on the results. Go here to see his request on Facebook (if you're registered with that site). David's request is a great example in itself of how to use social networking sites--and special-interest groups on them--to pose questions, share information, and get a quick read of an interested community.

Monday, March 03, 2008

social media evolves...again

We know: You haven't quite gotten the hang of Facebook or the hum of LinkedIn or the how-middle-school-is-that? (according to your college kid) ways of MySpace. Or you have, and you're perfectly happy in one or three or more of those spaces. Now comes the next wave, well in progress: Social media sites that are walking away from attempting the be-all-and-end-all utility, forsaking it for a more targeted audience.

Some belong to organizations that can claim a network in their membership or existing audiences; some create new gathering places for the like-minded; others offer a specific function singularly, rather than attempt to do it all. Here, some examples you can compare to and crib from:
- Smithsonian Channel Community, a new social network building on the television channel (and presumably, staff and members and visitors at Smithsonian institutions). While still a fledgling group, it offers video, interviews and blogs from scientists and others featured on the channel, augmenting the TV programming, plus allows users to start interest groups, discussions or their own "starring roles" through contributed video and photos. (We wish they'd incorporate some of the Smithsonian's existing and intriguing blogs, like Eye Level from the American Art Museum.)

- Say Hi USA, still "under construction," is attempting to target boomers 50 and over for meetups, events and other networking. This appears to follow the basic Facebook/MySpace model of letting individuals meet or make their own groups.

- Travelers Table, an example of slicing the social network by function, lets you find meetings or meetups (who's going to that conference in LA? who wants to network on consulting in DC?) or set them up. Like many others, this one has a Facebook application, so if you're already on Facebook, you can take advantage of this site without leaving the Facebook world.
Finally, a hat tip to the blog PRNewser, which cites a survey showing that PR agencies "don't get" social networking. From AdWeek's reporting on the survey:
Clients complained that their agencies -- creative, media, public relations, design and others -- typically treat social channels like blogs as traditional media. In other cases, their ideas are not backed up by practical skills in the area. What's more, one client pointed out that his agencies have little of their own experience using social networks or video-sharing sites for themselves.
Not this one, of course. You can find our contributions on Facebook, LinkedIn and Widgetbox, and we play around with the other sites we recommend to you as well. Contact me at to strategize your foray into social media.

does this sound like your company's blog?

If you've struggled to get your company to start a blog, take a look at Wal-Mart's third foray into the field, covered today in the New York Times. With the irresistible name of Check Out, the blog is written by the discount chain's buyers, focusing mostly on electronics--in uncensored posts. It's the most authentic of the chain's blogs so far, and the best received. We resonated with this description of how the model evolved at Wal-Mart--and many other companies, perhaps yours:
Anil Dash, a blogger at Six Apart, which makes blogging software, said the evolution in Wal-Mart’s thinking about blogs was typical. “You start with this total lockdown, suits read everything, one post a month model,” he said. “Then you evolve. A year later, you get one that is more open. A year after that, they start to do something that is far more authentic.”

Mr. Dash said Wal-Mart’s decision to let buyers do the blogging reflected a growing recognition that “trying to control who can speak and what they can say does not work.”
Put this in your "making the case" file for blogs if your company doesn't have one yet, and let me know if I can help you get your feet -- or at least, your corporate toes -- wet in the new media pool anytime soon.

where to catch me next

I'm joining speechwriter Jeff Porro next Monday to share ways to "Take Your Next Speech from Good to Great: Speaker Secrets for Executive Women" at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The March 10 session takes place from 12 noon to 2pm and includes luncheon; registration is $35 for club members and $40 for non-members. Call the club to register at 703-761-4250. And Northern California scientists from all disciplines will be the first to take part in a series of communications training workshops  I'm facilitating, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation. The first skill-building workshop is set for March 14 in San Jose; follow the link above to request more information. The workshops are part of a new initiative, Communicating Science: Tools for Scientists and Engineers, that includes a website full of resources, training webinars and tips to help scientists explain their research to a wide range of public audiences.